Fiona Hall: Sydney Ambush

Autumn leaves whisper the crunch of morning cool and a beaded skull holds gaze for the bus arrival. Perched in the bus with motion and bump, casual glances strike a succession. The beaded skull glares stop after stop. What is this ambush?

Where are the sardine tins?

Pangs of anxiety sting my softly drawn breath. My feet move forward; mind apart; the MCA is before me. Inside the monolith, Fiona Hall’s creative enigma suspends for my arrival. At this moment, silent stirs begin to whimper from the imposing few arriving in ‘garb’ of moth-devoured cardies, tousled hair and canvas sneakers; ‘creatives’, my guess; I know my own kind anywhere.

Mounting the steps of the MCA, I savour my last roaming sensations of croissant and latte before I embark on, what could be, the revelation of an enduring artist. To my delight, the pangs are sweetened with the exposure of something more; success!

Inside; the vision of the creative, densely filters through the landscape of tourist bodies, whom seemingly, at random, steer away from the ‘postcard’ that is Sydney Harbour, to also embark on a tour of something modern and expressive; an expansion of cultural ingestion, perhaps?

Consumption, Symbiosis, Body, Paradise, Territory and Trade announce Hall’s collection of works with a suggestion of interpretation for the viewer. Each collection, isolated to a defined viewing space, allows the individual to engage in a journey of themed offerings.

Anxious to perform a journey, as Hall would have mapped, I stand confused by which space to view first. Confronted by wax cast forms, Tupperware lighting, baby wear knitted from coke cans and pressed metal imagery, I quickly realise each work is a stand alone piece infused with relative meaning. My conservative impulses want to apply a chronology to Hall’s work however this is softened by the fact the works are grouped through meaning rather than time.


Delicate, laborious etchings of flora line a wall as two ‘creatives’ whisper and marvel at the intricacy and detail of each work. The suspended brain forms that follow add a pinch of human representation to the space. It is not until I indulge in the centre-piece of the room, that the significance of Hall’s collective title, ‘symbiosis’, is observed.

White, curvaceous, fluid forms appear to float in a glass cabinet. Further scrutiny, reveals the forms to be of two parts; a perforated drain pipe and an intricately beaded, seaweed like, form. The white alludes a calm and peaceful beauty however with observation of the work’s subject and title ‘dead in the water’ , Hall’s expression is initiated; the man-made polluting nature.

Decay of our natural environment, is commonly masked, by the hand of human technologies and developments. Hall’s work attempts to remove any questionable obstacles by presenting a clear relationship between the man made and how it causes detriment to nature. If anything, Hall’s expression may elevate public awareness of environmental issues; another avenue of education for society.

Enter paridise!

The connection between the symbol of man-made and nature prevails.

Sardine tins scrolled open with the guts removed and cleansed, offer housing to a new ‘form’ of life; human form from which natural form grows; a reversed analogy of its original purpose, perhaps?

Tempted to marvel only the intricate detail of each tin, the items are studied to reveal a recurrent theme. Rich in message, the notion of symbiosis is prompted, yet again. A food chain is suggested as a challenge to human intervention. Humans fish for food, technological methods package the feed and then human hand peels access; intervention. Hall’s hand inserts human form, nature grows from human; tree like forms that emulate the gesture of each human insertion seemingly evolve; life imitating art?

With Halls recurring argument, for nature and human activity to interact with benefit to one another, she acts as a voice for current environmental issues that challenge future development and technologies. What does the future hold if we continue to ignore the adverse effects of pollution in our waterways, industrial manoeuvres, the use of fossil fuels? Can nature set the precedence for human growth and development?

Hall has an eminent power to thrust unnerving realities into her viewer’s conscious by distracting them with a crafty beauty. With a captured audience, the subject gently unfolds provocative truths. With a strong urban current of environmental awareness within media + political strains, Hall’s work adds fuel to an argument contextual to the ‘now’.

From an architectural perspective, Hall’s skills emanate traditional method aligned with contemporary expression responding to the context that is the urban. In an ideal, architectural world, today, to have a symbiosis between built form and nature would seemingly be desired.

One of Hall’s works that impresses with a sense of helplessness is ‘morning chorus’. A tribute to the extinction of bird breeds, their representation is their beak adhered to an oil carton. It is at this point Hall’s manipulation starts to play on my mind. What implications does architecture have on the greater environment?

Hall’s environmental tones and gestures towards culture and technology reflect an ongoing struggle to reduce human dominance in the play of our built environment. Her attempt to prompt environmental symbiosis between humans and nature is applauded and encouraged.

With current moves for sustainable Sydney, ESD and green star ratings in Architectural realms, one can only hope that Fiona Hall’s subject for works continue to challenge society and are exposed repeatedly as a tool to increase awareness.

Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is current host to Fiona Hall’s ‘Force Field’. Several decades are collectively exhibited, uniquely stamped with intricacy and beauty, a Hallmark, if you like and a marvel as I like!


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